How To Remake The Academy

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A new executive director will soon get the chance to stamp his or her vision on Hollywood’s most prestigious organization.

When Bruce Davis steps down as the Academy’s executive director June 30 after more than 20 years, it will create the most significant leadership shift in the organization’s recent history. Davis did an excellent job, but now it’s time to look ahead. Here’s how:

1. Put an outsider in charge
Academy staffers went into shock when news spread that Tom Sherak, the Academy’s president (an elected position, unlike the executive director), had hired recruitment firm Spencer Stuart to search for Davis’ replacement instead of automatically promoting from within. He was absolutely right. During Davis’ reign, the Academy has gone from being a low-key institution to a multimillion-dollar powerhouse that oversees the Oscars, a vast library, a film-restoration center and a host of other operations. Moving forward, it needs a visionary to define its mission for the future.

2. Scrap the museum
Davis made one big mistake: committing to a $400 million movie museum to be built near Hollywood and Vine. It’s a boondoggle. Land has been bought, but Sherak says it’s “on hold” until the economy changes. He adds, though, “we’d like to see it happen in our lifetime.” There are better ways to spend money. Kill it.

3. Refine membership
The Academy has 5,755 voting members. That means people who lost their connection to the business years ago are still making key decisions. The Academy must make room for genuine change. One way: Move anyone who hasn’t worked for 10 years to nonvoting status.

4. Fix the foreign-language rules
The Academy keeps defending its mindboggling foreign-language process, whereby each country nominates one film, comparing it to the Olympics. Think China, Iran and North Korea are as serious about aesthetics as athletics? Think again.

5. Go back to five nominees for best picture
Last year, the Academy upped its number nominees from five to 10 in a bid to get better TV ratings. It was presented as an experiment — and the Academy got lucky with 10 legitimate nominees. But what if a clunker like Burlesque or The Tourist made the final 10, as happened at the Globes? Stick with five.

6. Extend the president’s term
Sherak, like his predecessors, is elected one year at a time, with a maximum of four consecutive years in office. That makes it hard to have real power and long-term effect. Each president should have four years minimum, counterbalancing the mandarins who run the Academy on a daily basis.

7. Hire the right Oscar host
Ever since Billy Crystal stepped down, the Academy has searched in vain for the perfect Oscar host. It got credible reviews with Hugh Jackman two years ago, but controversy helps. Who’s the awards host everyone’s talking about this year? Ricky Gervais. If he is too busy in 2012, then what about Sacha Baron Cohen? He was scotched last year, though first-time Academy Awards producer Adam Shankman secretly wanted him.

8. Bring in board muscle
The Academy’s board is made up of 43 governors elected by its various branches. Just as any major corporation hires outsiders for a different point of view, so should the Academy. What about Bill Clinton? Or Steve Jobs? Or Arianna Huffington?

9. Regionalize
The Academy remains Beverly Hills-centric. Despite efforts to reach out to foreign institutions, it has done nothing to expand within this country, other than a theater in New York. Time to create regional hubs, as the AFI has with its Silver Theatre and Cultural Center outside Washington.

10. Be transparent
How many votes go to each Oscar nominee? “I don’t even know myself,” Sherak admits. “The only people who do know the results are PricewaterhouseCoopers.” Well, they should tell us. Revealing the votes would add transparency and bring drama to an Oscarcast perilously lacking it.